Dust Bowl Dystopia (Short-Story Part 1)

The world has stopped moving forward…
Mom says they pushed too hard and fast, never built up the framework that was needed to sustain everything. Like a tree with only a few roots, it toppled with just a little push from the elements. Everyone stood around watching it happen, no one strong enough to lift it back into place once it hit the dirt.
Fifty years since ‘the good times’ have passed and now it’s like this. Overworked land crumbles into the wind, making everything appear dull; lifeless. A dust that blankets anything standing still longer than a couple minutes, including the leftover shells of history; electronics, cars, giant useless buildings.

My name’s Max. I’m seventeen.

This cloudy brown morning, I’m j

ust doing the usual daily chores; same route, different day. It’s a sad truth that I’ve been here and nowhere else my whole life. Just hauling water; at least it feels that way.
I let a grunt slip out as I adjust the bar across my shoulders. It’s the best method if you don’t want to spill and I haven’t let a drop go wasted in two years.

Mom and I only use five gallons but it’s more even with two buckets. I stop at some of the older people’s houses that can’t easily make the trip to the well. The kindness makes Mom happy.

“Hi Max!” a girl named Sue shouts over to me from her doorway. I lazily lift a hand and keep walking; no eye contact is key. She’s nice, but the tiny brunette talks a lot and I’ve still got to go hunting this morning.

Game is scarce close to town, but I do better than most. I can make it to the farther, less barren areas because I’m young. Even so, the majority of our meals are bug related. There’s also the algae drinks we make. I like them, but Mom wasn’t raised on algae so she plugs her nose to drink it. We get by.

Mom always says how much she regrets that she didn’t travel to a better place when she was young and had the chance. But she got pregnant with me and now we’re living only to eat and stay alive. There’s no extra food to give us the energy to walk miles.
Every time I see a woman’s swollen belly, so out of place among the stick thin residents of Hellone, I can’t help but wonder who in their right mind would choose to have a kid in this godforsaken land. Around the smarty-pants age of ten I actually asked Mom that very question. She slapped me, then turned a teary eye to the ground mumbling something that ended with “… no choice.” I was a young burden at that time though. Now I’m the one taking care of her.
I am taller than other teenage boys, hell I’m actually taller than everyone in town and Mom is so proud of me for it. Like I had a say in how big I was able to get. I think it’s more of a pride in herself for not letting me go hungry when I was growing up.

I know now that she went without food more times than she should have. It may be why she is sickly so often now. I know it and make sure her stomach is full before mine. Though it doesn’t seem to help. The older folks in town whisper in sad tones about Cancer. It’s a very bad thing that I can’t fully understand, and that scares me.

“How you doing Harry?” I ask the gray haired man sitting on a metal lawn chair in front of his tiny adobe home.

I stop at his place last, he’s our neighbor and I’ve known him my whole life. I like to talk with Harry and have a rest before going home so Mom doesn’t see me sweaty and feel bad about me doing things for her.

“I’m doing good.” He answers, but the cough that follows is a gravelly mess. He spits into a handkerchief and I look away. “Well, I’m alive still anyway.” he says with a chuckle.
“You and Mom sound the same.” I tell Harry, as I sit in the chair beside him.

His expression is serious. “That’s because your Ma and I got the same disease. Same as anyone who’s lived in this filthy dust for too long.” He grabs my arm and his eyes sharpen and stare into mine. “You gotta promise me boy. Promise me that when we go… you’ll find somewhere else to live.

A place where there’s green plants everywhere.. and in the morning, there’s dew on all the leaves and droves of animals drink from water that’s rushing through the land, clear as glass.

Find it! It has to exist… It once did. I saw it with my own eyes when I was a child. It has to exist. Promise me you’ll find it!”

His emotional rant sets off another coughing fit and I rub his back until it passes. This time I couldn’t miss the red on his rag. It scares me too.
“I promise, Harry. But that won’t be for a long time.”
“No, not long now. I can feel it. Don’t feel bad though, I’m ready Max.”
“Don’t talk like that, You and Mom will be around until she is old like you. I’ll make sure of it.”
Harry pats my arm softly and smiles, “You’re right, don’t listen to my old man talk. I don’t really know much.”

He waves at the air as if to swat away the heaviness of our conversation and pulls a hand sized book from his back pocket. I feel my eyes go big and I shift in my seat to hide the pages from anyone else’s sight.

All the books, other than two ratty school readers, are kept at the library under lock and key. The only people who are allowed to read them are the ones who have food to trade for reading privileges and very few have that luxury.
“Where did you get that?!” I ask.
“It’s mine.” he hands it to me and smiles kindly, “And now it’s yours.”
“What?!” My heart is racing and I don’t know if I should take it.
“Put it away before it’s confiscated by that asshat, Mayor Goset.”
I slip it into my pocket and nod, “Thank you Harry. It’s the best gift I’ve..”
“Yeah, yeah, go on home to your Ma or she’s going to be over here yelling at me for wasting your time. Tell her I say Hi and don’t tell her about that.” He points to the hidden book and then waves me away.
“Okay, I won’t. Thanks again Harry.” I can’t wipe the smile from my face and I practically fly home with the water bucket.

I quietly enter our one bedroom adobe home, I don’t want to wake Mom if she’s asleep.
“You were gone a while, did Sue talk you into a corner again.” Mom says this and tries to hide a teasing smile.

I roll my eyes, because she knows how much Sue annoys me. It’s like every time I turn around she’s there.
“No I was talking with Harry. He says Hi.”
I see Mom and all the joy of receiving the book is replaced with worry. She’s lying in bed like she does for most of the day. Her bones ache too bad when she’s upright. Harry’s words about Mom not having much time keep circling in my head. It makes me really look at her for the first time in a while.

I hadn’t realized how sunken in she’s become or how deep and black the circles under her eyes are, the ones that never go away even with the many hours of rest she gets. It isn’t good.
Those tired eyes become worried, “What’s wrong Max?”
I feel the pressure of tears behind my eyes but I keep them back and tell her, “I’m worried… about Harry, I mean. He’s coughing blood and talking about dying. I don’t like it.”
“It’s a part of life, but there’s no need to fret about it beforehand is there? We have to worry about surviving the here and now first, right?” She smiles cheerfully and I know it isn’t a real smile but I’m glad for her effort.
“Right!” I bark back with my equally forced cheer and bring her some fresh water before I get my pack ready for today’s hunt.

——————-

This is a story Ive had for a bit and have been tinkering with. I’ve got another chapter written already, so I hope you all like it.

The art is mine.

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